Telecommuting May Be Coming to a State Agency Near You

For all the sturm and drang over the taxes-and-transportation deadlock, Virginia lawmakers did manage to get a few useful bills passed this year. One of those is a measure, championed by Del. Timothy D. Hugo, R-Centreville, and passed unanimously by the House of Delegates and the Senate, that will encourage telecommuting in the state workforce.

The secretaries of administration and technology are ordered to establish a policy for statewide telecommuting and alternative work schedules. The legislation sets the following goal: “By July 1, 2009, each state agency shall have a goal of not less than 25 percent of its eligible workforce participating in alternative work schedules.”

That’s barely three years away. Pretty ambitious.

Potentially, there are two immediate payoffs. The first is obvious: Telecommuting/alternate workplaces will take state employees off the road during rush hour, providing a modicum of relief for traffic congestion.

The second benefit is less obvious and may require follow-up legislation: More state employees working out of home or in the field translates into fewer employees taking up space in state office buildings. The state needs to follow the lead of the federal government in shifting appropriate sectors of its workforce to “hoteling” accommodations. Hoteling eliminates permanent, personal desks for mobile employees. Instead, laptop- and cellphone-equipped employees reserve desk space only on days they need to be in the office. Some organizations have found they can cut their real estate space requirements by 50 percent or more. That may not be achievable for a largely desk-bound state bureaucracy, but the state clearly stands to save something by integrating hoteling into its plans for optimizing the size of its real estate portfolio.

There is a third benefit, although it is more difficult to quantify: Experience shows that enabling employees to work at home and in the field can lead to higher productivity and job satisfaction. But for now, the first two reasons — taking commuters off roads and reducing the size of state real estate holdings — should provide more than ample justification.

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11 responses to “Telecommuting May Be Coming to a State Agency Near You”

  1. Toomanytaxes Avatar

    Back in the 1990s, AT&T did a study that demonstrated a business could save an average of $15,000 in real estate-related costs for each employee that did not work regularly in the business’ building.

  2. Anonymous Avatar

    I find when I’m mobile, I’m frequently working at odd hours around the clock, my productivity definitely goes up. And I don’t have to go to all those useless meetings.

  3. NotGroverNorquist Avatar

    I don’t want to burst anyone’s bubble. This pursuit is very, I mean very, worthwhile. But there is little the legislature can effectuate. It takes executive branch action.

    Hugo’s bill requires “goals.” So what? Is there a penalty for failing to reach them?

    Two bits of legislative jargon:

    1/ A “strive to” bill. When the GOP took over the House, Morgan Griffith in particular said they would quit passing bills saying the state would “stive to…”

    2/ A “brochure” bill – one that has no effect but looks good on your re-election brochure. Often they codify what government can already do.

    Hugo’s bill qualifies on both counts.

  4. Anonymous Avatar

    I hope they will really push telecommuting for us public employees but I’m already hearing management rumblings. How in the world will they be able to monitor our every second if we’re working from home, they wonder. Also, they’re already claiming that the bill states “alternate work schedule” as the goal. So, if they allow a select few employees to work 9 hour days instead of 8 and have a half-day off every other week, they feel they will be in compliance. Unfortunately, this doesn’t get anyone out of traffic…. The Commonwealth is really going to have to get with it in terms of realizing work can (and should) be measured by the quality and quantity of work and not how many hours the butt is in the office chair for this to happen.

  5. E M Risse Avatar
    E M Risse

    A note of caution:

    I would think losing 26 million Vets records would do more to cool the interest in telework than “strive to” or “brochure” bills.

    It will give those “middle managers” a tangible proof that they need to keep their eyes on employees.

    Among “middle managers” is it believed that “those who I do not need to keep my eye on will be my boss or they will be working for someone else (including themselves) before their increased productivity makes my group look good and I get a raise.”

    After 35 years of advocating expanded use of Telework I can tell you that the first step is the evolution of functional human settlement patterns.

    It is not the other way around as the “telework will get other folks off the road so you and I can drive” advocates who sell IT gagets would like you to believe.


  6. E M Risse Avatar
    E M Risse


    Sorry I did not leave a clear trail.

    The VA employee took the data on 26 M Vets “home” to work on it.

    The data was stolen from the “home.”

    All I suggested was that these facts will give reluctant “middle managers” another excuse not to let others take data home – authorized or not.

    As an advocate of Telework since 1969 (and as one who introduced congresspersons to the idea before it became just another brand of pork) I agree with almost everything you say about how great the idea of Telework is except:

    “But done correctly, telecommuting could make a strong improvement to Virginia’s transportation mess at a lot less cost than paving the state.”

    It would be correct to say that given the number who already Telework, if the practice was terminated there would be absolute gridlock.

    A decade ago there were enough Teleworkers on any given day to fill up 37 miles of a multi-lane expressway. I think it was 8 lanes, but perhaps 8 lanes each way.

    The reason the impact would be so hight is that Teleworkers tend to be the ones who now drive the fartherest.

    We did an annual reprot on the number of Teleworkers in the early 90s but gave up when the numbers became so large.

    For the very reason that you know a lot of individuals who practice some form of Telework, the potential for improving mobility via Telework is limited.

    All the low hanging fruit has been picked. Those with the skills, the leverage, the opportunity, the sympathetic supervisors are already doing it.

    For nearly 20 years the drums have been pounded. There are hundreds of thousands who are “doing it.”

    Telework is not for everyone and not forever. In some organizations who have use Telework for a decade, for every new Teleworker, there is someone who wants to move back to a more traditional relationship with home and office. You are right there are skills to be taught and they have to be taught over and over.

    Sure, there will be growth of Telework. Yes, cell phones and wireless networks open new opportunites. Yes, there are benefits but not enough to “make a strong improvement….” unless there are more functional settlement patterns (aka, Balanced Communities).

    The reason Balanced Communities would provide support for far more Telework is that everything else will be more accessible. See our discussion of Balanced Communites in a column of that title at

    Hope that helps.


  7. yodi-va Avatar

    I am a state worker and would love to see it all become secure and practical. Right now I am fulfilling the literal meaning of “alternative work schedules” because I work four 10hr days and that was a major feat. My work (processing data, you don’t want to know, trust me) could be done over secure connections without any physical materials leaving the office. Almost all of our incoming paper is scanned and the keying is corrections of “Intelligent Character Recognition” that isn’t all that intelligent or keying the results of researching errors in the original paperwork – again not requiring the original paper. Remote monitoring can take place over the agency net as easily as the LAN. The technology is available. Nobody is going to put me on a slow boat to China to torture me for my password.
    Even as Northrop Grumman takes over VITA and changes come slowly – there are those in higher offices telecommuting now. The obstacle is the mind-set and illusion of control that one gets with a dress code. Also, realize that my co-workers are increasingly being replaced by P-14 wage workers(1500 hr a year) and contract workers from a temp agency. Even our brand new dells that we fought for as an agency and then fought over whithin the agency were just re-conditioned, not brand new. Don’t hold your breath, the wording leaves “wriggle room”

  8. Anonymous Avatar

    Actually, I telework everyday and am a confirmed believer.

    But, NotGroverNorquist makes a point that you need to have sanctions. The original bill set the stage. And, last year, I introduced HB1239, HB1240, and HB1241 which would reduce the agency appropiation if they did not meet the telework goals. I will reintroduce these bills next year.

    The agencies came out in droves to oppose the bills. We’ll use the HJ 144 (a joint study that I introduced and was passed) to build the needed support.

    Thanks for the post and comments..Tim Hugo

  9. James Atticus Bowden Avatar
    James Atticus Bowden

    I’ve been working without an adult supervisor over my daily work since 1994. I’ve been telecommuting since late 1998. I bring many times more money to Mother Corporation than they pay me – as part of team efforts that have my fingerprints on them.

    I notice that when I have to go on-site for awhile during certain phases of work the inefficiency of office dynamics is huge. People, being people – appropriately spend a lot of time socializing. We are social animals.

    When I read and write, my productivity goes way up when I am telecommuting.

    It depends on the work – the specific tasks – as to what is the most efficient, most cost-effective, most productive of excellence – all different metrics.

    Encourage the Commonwealth to use discernment to see where and how to telecommute wisely when it is possible and preferable.

  10. Jim Patrick Avatar
    Jim Patrick

    Telework is a long, long way away. Setting up groundwork is fine, but opposition will come on a lot of fronts.

    As I predicted, the defenders of corporate culture swarmed out of the woodwork over the Vehrs Affair. They believe that attendance is more important than production, or that production is attendance. Schools still teach this.

    These, and the “agencies [that] came out in droves to oppose the bills” (Tim Hugo) with the “mind-set and illusion of control that one gets with a dress code” (yodi-va) will make a formidable block opposing telework.

    Remote work requires measuring production, not time spent at a workstation. Reynolds also notes that prohibiting Powerpoint© would increase productivity more than any other policy!

    Having gotten cynical since April, there’s also the control that the elected have, patronage they’ll be loath to give up.

  11. Big Kahuna Avatar
    Big Kahuna

    Since beginning in IT about ten years ago, I’ve telecommuted approximately 20% of that career, 7 years of that as “Mr.” Sometimes more, like on 911 when the state shut down and evacuated our building, but people still wanted to know what was going on. When Richmond flooded and no one had power, I telecommuted from a Panera Bread that did have power. When the state homepage crashed and no backup was available for 48 hours, I reloaded it from home on a weekend.

    If I had worked like a traditional 20th Century cog, none of this would have happened. But since we had the IT infrastructure in place, I put in 50-60 hour weeks regardless of the condition of the rest of the world. When other “workstation” employees went back to sleep when the first snow flurry fell, I was checking email and manning the state’s Live Help system.

    But was I considered productive? Unfortunately, no. In later years, if I wasn’t sitting in my seat in the cube I was assigned, I wasn’t working. And that eventually caught up with me.

    The point of this tirade? Telecommuting is a great idea, but there are too many Old School dinosaurs opposing anything they don’t understand to let such a change happen any time soon. They will fight it tooth and nail, both in the public sector and in the private.

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